There is such a lot of information about organic produce and foods these days that it is hard to distinguish between hype and honesty. A better question is what constitutes a product receiving the title organic?
Mass production of food to feed millions of people across the country, and now the globe, is the result of an ever increasing population, and an ever increasing need to provide nutrition to as many people as possible. None of us want to witness starvation. But in the effort to generate more, faster, the developed nations have created ways to get higher yields that are more pest resistant and foods that can be stored for longer with less spoilage. All of that adds up to a combination of pesticides, plastics, preservatives and, in general, reduced nutritional content in the processed foods we eat.
There is a growing movement to buy and eat local, and to do so often includes a switch to buying organically grown and sold produce and prepared foods. This is a fabulous alternative – if you can access and afford it. Farmers markets were the first to introduce organics and it has since spread to larger stores and in some places, supermarkets. The higher cost reflects the intensity of labor and materials to produce the food. At an absolute minimum, soils must be pesticide and herbicides free, and no pesticides can be used on the produce itself. It requires care and attention to detail. Prepared foods must be made using organic produce and any additional ingredients need to be organic too. The final product has to be up to par for organic labeling.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certifies organics. The USDA is responsible for monitoring and certifying organic farming and agriculture and organic labeling and marketing.
There is increasing demand globally for organic foods as the health effects and long-term impacts to the environment from continued pesticide and herbicide use have become evident. Exact figures based on volume or costs are not available, but the USDA reports the following:
“The U.S. does not have consistent data on organic trade because organic product codes have not yet been added to the U.S. and international harmonized system of trade codes. Preliminary estimates from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service put the value of U.S. organic imports in 2002 at between $1.0 billion and $1.5 billion, while the value of U.S. organic exports was $125 million to $250 million.”
The market for organic foods includes:
“…soybeans, food ingredients, fruit juices, frozen vegetables, and dried fruit. Export markets include Canada, Japan, the European Union, Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Australia.”
More detailed information on production, costs, distribution, retailing and policy is available on the USDA website.